Rolling Blackouts Hit Taiwan After Accident at Energy Plant

TAIPEI, Taiwan – An accident at a power plant in southern Taiwan on Thursday prompted authorities to initiate an emergency power outage across the island that left millions without power at lunchtime before restoring power later that evening.

Taipower, the state-owned utility company, said the outage was due to a grid failure at the Hsinta power plant in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Shortly afterwards, around 3 p.m., the island’s residents received a government alarm on their cell phones warning of the impending power outages. In several cities, including Tainan, Taoyuan, and the capital Taipei, electricity was turned off almost instantly. At around 8:20 p.m. Taipower announced that the power supply had been completely restored across the island.

Authorities said they are still investigating the cause of the failure. Wang Mei-hua, the economy minister, told reporters that a prolonged drought, Taiwan’s worst in half a century, has reduced the island’s power capacity and hampered efforts to restore electricity.

She added that a recent heat wave had added to electricity consumption and further strained the island’s electricity supply.

The sudden failure surprised many of the island’s 24 million people. In several cities, the police were forced to direct traffic manually.

According to Taipower, around 4 million households were affected by the failure.

Science parks in the cities of Hsinchu and Tainan appeared to be largely unaffected by the failures, according to the news agency. Taiwan is a global high-tech manufacturing center known for its computer chip industry, whose products are essential components for smartphones, cars, and other devices.

Chip-making giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company said in an email that some of the company’s facilities had a power outage as a result of the outage, but power was being supplied as usual.

The Taipower spokesman said the magnitude of the outage on Thursday appeared to be less than an earlier island-wide blackout in 2017. This five-hour outage resulted in losses of around 3 worth of 151 companies in industrial parks and exports Millions of dollars in processing zones, said the then Department of Commerce.

Thursday’s outage came as Taiwan tried to quell a recent coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, the island’s health officials announced 16 cases of local transmission, the highest day since the pandemic began last year.

On Thursday, officials from the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control in Taipei held a daily press conference to announce 13 new local cases when the room suddenly went dark.

A video of the briefing showed officers sitting confused on the darkened stage while reporters talked to each other, their faces lit by the glowing screens on their laptops. Shortly afterwards the power supply was restored.

Raymond Zhong contributed to the coverage.

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